Traversing Northern France after our brief couple of days in Paris, it became very clear that there was a lot more to see in France than just the capital. Brickwork quickly gave way to rolling hills and the hustle and bustle of the Parisian streets were replaced with a sedate patchwork of Norman farmland. Within a couple of hours, our excellent driver Regis (from Albion Voyages) had whisked us off to a different world.
Our home for the next two days would be one of the magnificent chateaus dotted within the vast greenery of Normandy, Château La Chenèviere which is part of the Small Luxury Hotels of the World portfolio. Close to the town of Bayeux, it’s beautiful facade greeted us as we pulled into the gardens and moved our overpacked suitcases into our rooms. With the sun setting between the trees, shards of light sprawled across the perfectly manicured lawns. Grand Design, eat your heart out.
Inside, each of the 29 rooms are individually decorated, giving Château La Chenèviere a real sense of being at home. My suite for the stay overlooked the grounds and there was plenty of space for me to move in. It had a traditional charm with all of the modern amenities; a winning combination, if you ask me. Downstairs, the reception area was nestled between a “front room” as well as the on-site restaurant Le Botanist. Feeling a little peckish (despite consuming an infinite amount of pastry in Paris), we sat down for dinner at 8pm.
Being an integral part of my visits abroad, there is always a sense of anticipation when it comes to food and all of the hotels in the Small Luxury Hotels of the World portfolio had delivered so far. Le Botanist did not disappoint at all; ingredients are locally sourced by head chef Didier Robin, with some of the ingredients being produced in the chateau itself. To start, the Poached Snails and Foie Gras Ravioli with Broth was an absolute dream. This was the first time I had even seen these two powerhouse Gallic ingredients on the same plate and it worked beautifully; a silky smooth broth punctuated by strong flavours. Then, the most perfectly cooked Beef Fillet with Vegetables and a Chocolat Banyuls Sauce. The sweetness of the carrot and beetroot balanced well with a slightly bitter chocolate taste, finished with perfectly pink meat. After mains, and surprisingly before dessert, we were treated to the Chariot de Fromages; literally The Chariot of Cheese. The most incredible selection of locally sourced cheeses definitely tested appetites and, although we were very full at this point, everyone finished a dessert of Caramelized Apple Tart Tatin with Pommeau, Crumble and Ice Cream. Afterwards, a trip downstairs for Calvados tasting in the Zanzibar Bar provided the perfect nightcap.
The next day, we were up bright and early for a very fresh buffet breakfast. Eggs cooked to order were served alongside local produce and it was plenty to fuel us up for the day ahead. After a quick photoshoot in the grounds of the Château La Chenèviere, we headed into the Normandy countryside. It was great to see the local cheese industry and taste Calvados in various states. Typical to the Normandy region, the latter is best described as an apple brandy; a lovechild of cider and a spirit, if you will. Needless to say, I found my favourite and bought plenty of bottles from the local Calvados producer. Dinner that evening involved a short cycle to the nearest town and, after the excitement of the previous few days, and early night for once. The next morning, we would be heading back to Paris.
We opted to take the train back to Paris on our fourth, and final, day. While Albion Voyages had been the perfect host, a couple of people in the group had a slight issue with long car journeys so the train was a less risky option. In a little over two hours we were once again back in the French Capital, ready for a tour and lunch at Hôtel San Régis, another boutique Parisian hotel in the Small Luxury Hotels of the World portfolio. However, due to it’s close proximity to the very photogenic Pont Alexandre III, it seemed only right to head out for a quick outfit shoot in the blazing midday sun first.
Set in a mid-19th century mansion house that sits between the Champs-Élysées and Avenue Montaigne, Hôtel San Régis is a converted 19th Century townhouse which is the personification of classic Parisian style and elegance. Some of the rooms have unparalleled views over the Eiffel Tower in the distance and the interior is decorated to an incredibly high standard, with swathes of greens and reds finished with splashes of gold. For lunch, we sat in Hôtel San Régis’ winter garden restaurant with a beautiful glass-roof; perfect lighting to get those all-important food shots. The food itself was incredible; a standout being the chocolate and raspberry dessert that signalled the end of our adventure and a reminder that it was time to head back to London.
Arriving at Gare du Nord with a couple of hours to spare, we headed into the Eurostar Business Premier Lounge to unwind and relax. Situated on the top floor of the original 19th century building, the high ceilings and marble fireplaces made the lounge feel more like a Parisian apartment than a waiting area in a train station. The high-speed wifi and USB sockets allowed us to catch up on work from the past few days, while the food and drink menu was equivocal to a Parisian restaurant. We boarded the train stress-free and with smiles on our faces; France had been good to us and there were now plenty more reasons to head back.
I would like to thanks Small Luxury Hotels of the World for being excellent hosts during the trip; the variety of luxury, boutique accomodation provided so much anticipation over the four days. You can check out their entire collection here; with over 500 hotels across the world, each one provides a unique experience and a level of service that comes highly recommended by myself!